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2016

Report Commissioned By Louisiana Legislature Calls for State to Raise The Age

Monday, 01 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Campaigns

By Brian Evans, State Campaign Coordinator

Today a report commissioned last year by the Louisiana state legislature has strongly recommended that the state raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction. Louisiana is currently one of 9 states in which all 17-year-olds are tried as adults. Several states have raised the age in recent years, including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Mississippi. Other states – Michigan, New York, South Carolina, and Wisconsin – are considering legislation to do so this year.

In November, New Orleans city officials pledged to move all kids under 18 (regardless of charge) from the adult Orleans Parish Prison to the city’s juvenile detention facility. 

The report – “A Legislated Study of Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in Louisiana: the future of 17-year-olds in the Louisiana Justice System” – was produced by the LSU Institute for Public Health and Justice in response to a Louisiana House of Representatives resolution

It reviews the latest science on adolescent behavior, as well as public safety, system impacts, and the financial costs of keeping 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. It concludes by finding that “raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds in Louisiana would be consistent with legal trends and a growing body of research on adolescent development and behavior”. It also concludes that raising the age would be likely to “improve public safety” and “lower long-term costs”.

The main recommendation of the report is that Louisiana “strongly consider raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction” after a one-year planning and transition period. The study also suggests “raising the minimum age of juvenile detention from 10 to 13”, and seizing this moment to create a “comprehensive five-year strategic plan for juvenile justice”.

The report notes that raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction would not change statutes that allow for youth to be transferred to the adult system. While the issue of transfer is outside the scope of its investigation, the report does observe that: “Given the noted effects of sending minors to the adult system, particularly higher recidivism rates, Louisiana should ensure that the use of transfer promotes public safety.”

The Louisiana legislature convenes in mid-March, so we will see in a matter of weeks what legislation might come out of this strong report – which the legislature itself authorized – and its recommendations to raise the age.

SCOTUS Rules Miller retroactive: Continues articulating that ‘kids are different’

Wednesday, 27 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Federal Update

By Carmen Daugherty, CFYJ Policy Director

In the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision, the Court found that a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when applied to those who are under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes.  This decision followed several 8th Amendment decisions acknowledging the lesser culpability of youth offenders, including banning the death penalty for youth, and banning life without possibility of parole for youth who commit non-homicide offenses.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled Miller retroactive in Montgomery v. Louisiana. Thus, those youth sentenced to die in prison prior to the Miller decision will now be given a chance at review and possibly parole. Henry Montgomery, who at the age of 17 was convicted of murdering a sheriff, was sentenced to life without the possibility in parole.  “The sentence was automatic upon the jury’s verdict, so Montgomery had no opportunity to present mitigation evidence to justify a less severe sentence. That evidence might have included Montgomery’s young age at the time of the crime; expert testimony regarding his limited capacity for foresight, self-discipline, and judgment; and his potential for rehabilitation.”

The Court noted in Miller that youth are prone to recklessness, immaturity, irresponsibility, more vulnerable to peer pressure, less able to avoid negative environments, and more amenable to rehabilitation than adults and therefore punishment should be “graduated and proportioned” not only to the offense but also to the offender. The Court punctuated these concerns with what it calls a “foundational principle: that imposition of a State’s most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children.” In the Court’s Montgomery decision, these foundational principles continued to influence the court’s 6-3 decision.  

For a further analysis and full opinions, see here.  

Important First Steps to End Solitary Confinement for Youth in Federal Prisons

Marcy Mistreet Tuesday, 26 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Federal Update

President Obama Takes Important First Steps to End Solitary Confinement for Youth in Federal Prisons

By Marcy Mistrett, CFYJ CEO

In a historic moment yesterday, President Obama used his executive authority to end the use of solitary confinement for youth in the federal prison system.

This action is incredibly important to the numerous youth who are prosecuted and sentenced as adults in the federal bureau of prisons each year.  Youth housed in adult facilities are often subject to solitary confinement as a perverse means of “protecting” them from the adult population; making the abuse even more egregious for this population. Citing a Department of Justice review of the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement by the federal bureau of prisons, Mr. Obama called upon our “common humanity” to end this torturous practice.

The 53 recommendations drawn by the Department of Justice will apply to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the US Marshalls Service, but also sends a strong message to states to create a less harmful environment for those in its care.  The recommendations state that youth under age 18 “shall not be placed in restrictive housing”.  They further state that in “very rare” circumstances when there is serious and immediate risk of injury to another person, a youth may be removed and placed in restrictive housing as a “cool down” period—but only in consultation with a mental health professional.  While the recommendations stop short of articulating a specific maximum length of time allowed in those “very rare circumstances”, the recommendations clearly state that youth under 18 don’t belong in isolation, period.

But the recommendations go farther, and include recommendations for youth ages 18-24 that include training all correctional staff on young adult brain development and de-escalation tactics; developmentally responsive policies and practices including therapeutic housing communities and services to reduce the number of incidents that could lead to restrictive housing; and call to limit the use of restrictive housing whenever possible, and if used, to limit the length of stay and to identify appropriate services they can receive while in restrictive housing.

These recommendations are important first steps to ending the use of solitary confinement for youth.  The harmful effects of solitary confinement are well documented.  Individuals subjected to such extreme deprivation, locked in isolation for 23 hours a day for weeks, months, and even years, are linked to devastating, long term psychological consequences including depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from other individuals.  For youth whose minds and bodies are still growing and developing, these consequences are amplified and too often lead to dire consequences including self-harm and suicide.  In fact, the Department of Justice found that youth in solitary commit suicide at twice the rate of adults; and other research has shown that youth in solitary in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than if they were housed in the juvenile justice system.

In his announcement, President Obama stated, “ We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger, and worthy o our highest ideals.”

While we certainly applaud President Obama for taking this momentous step forward, we urge him to take further actions to protect youth in federal custody, such as preventing them from being in adult facilities to begin with.  In 2012, the recommendations made by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, included the charge to abandon practices like solitary confinement, which traumatize children and reduce their opportunities to become productive members of society.  However, the report also makes recommendation 6.9, “Whenever possible, prosecute youth offenders in the juvenile justice system instead of transferring their cases to adult courts.”  We urge Mr. Obama to use his remaining time in office to implement this recommendation by “strengthening federal regulations and essentially prohibit states and localities from incarcerating any person younger than 18 in an adult prison or jail as a condition of federal funding.”

It is long past due that our country starts treating children like children. Ending the practice of placing youth held in federal prisons in solitary confinement is a critical step toward this broader goal.  Now isn’t it time to ask why children are sentenced to time in federal prison at all?

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Marcy Mistrett Sunday, 17 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country

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By Marcy Mistrett, CFYJ CEO

The anniversary of Rev Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday presents us with a call of action to get involved in local, state and federal campaigns to end the prosecution, sentencing and incarceration of youth in the adult criminal justice system.

The injustices presented by youth being treated as adults in the criminal justice system are plentiful and continually positions the United States as an outlier in preserving the human rights of children. Several of the most egregious injustices include:
 
  • Treating children as though they are mini adults:  Research has proven that childrens’ brains handle decision-making, impulsivity, and causal relationships differently from adults.  Furthermore, they show great capacity to change. Not taking these differences into account is a gross injustice to our children.
  • Failing to provide children with appropriate protections at their arrest and during trial.  Children who are charged as adults are not afforded the protections of having their parents or guardians present during police interrogation.  Research has demonstrated that youth are much more likely to sign confessions, admit guilt, and feed law enforcement the answers that “they want” in order to go home. Despite having the greatest influence and support for their children, parents are often times left out of the equation which rehabilitation is considered.    
  • Treating children differently based on their race and ethnicity.  Children of color are much more likely to be prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults than their white counterparts.   These disparities are gross and unacceptable (African American youth are 9 times more likely to be sentenced to adult prison than white children for the same crimes; latino youth are 4 times more likely; and Tribal youth are nearly twice as likely).
  • Incarcerating children in adult facilities.  Children charged and sentenced as adults are housed in adult facilities.  They have very little access to developmentally appropriate education, mental health, substance abuse, or vocational services.  Rather, children are often held in solitary confinement to “protect” them from the adult population, isolating them 20-22 hours/day.
  • Punishing children the rest of their lives for poor decisions made in their childhood.  We know that a critical aspect of adolescence is learning to make good decisions; and having the opportunity to right the wrongs we make.  Children who are sentenced as adults carry their conviction the rest of their lives. 

For the past decade, the Campaign for Youth Justice has partnered with states, advocates, and impacted youth and families to challenge these practices.  We have seen the impact that unified voices can have in challenging injustices.  In fact, in the past ten years, 30 states have changed nearly 50 laws making it more difficult to prosecute, sentence and incarcerate children in the adult criminal justice system.

As we enter the 2016 legislative session, we encourage you to get involved in the local, state or federal campaigns that challenge this practice.  Legislation has already been introduced in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and South Carolina.  We expect several other states to introduce legislation in upcoming weeks to decrease the number of youth entering the adult criminal justice system.  We can only change these laws if communities are willing to stand for justice, and we need your help.

There are many ways to take a stand against injustice:

  • Sign on to your local campaign’s listserve to stay abreast of progress;
  • Call or tweet policymakers to show your support for reform;
  • Leverage your networks to learn more about this issue—host a discussion in your home, or community center, or house of faith to share with others the injustices being harbored against our youth;
  • Raise your voice in support—offer to write op eds or letters to the editor to call on policymakers to do what is right for children.

Justice is a fight well worth fighting for.  In the great words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  We hope to gain your support during this legislative session. For more information contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New York Governor Includes “Raise the Age” Proposal in his “State of the State” Budget Announcement

Friday, 15 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

On January 13th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the crucial question of raising the age in his “State of the State” speech, in which he outlined the New York State executive budget for 2016-17. New York is one of the last two states, along with North Carolina, where 16 year-olds are automatically charged as adults, which can have devastating, sometimes deadly, consequences. Trying, sentencing and incarcerating teenagers as adults has indeed been shown to substantially increase recidivism, as well as exposing the children to grave threats such as sexual assault and suicide.

A large coalition of advocates, law enforcement experts, unions and clergy has been working very hard to get New York to side with the vast majority of states and raise the age of criminal responsibility. The group has already won many victories and gained a lot of support, including from the state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, which was reiterated in his Wednesday’s budget announcement.

The 2016-17 budget includes funds for the application of a bill which, if it passes, would (among other things) raise the age of criminal responsibility from age 16 to age 17 on January 1, 2018 and to age 18 on January 1, 2019; raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 7 to age 12 on January 1, 2018 for all offenses except homicide; and expand Family Court jurisdiction to include youth ages 16 and 17 charged with non-violent felonies, misdemeanors, or harassment or disorderly conduct violations. New York is the state with the second highest number of kids housed in adult state prisons (after Florida), with 144 youth under 18 locked up with adults on any given day.

There are now high hopes that the state of New York will finally come around and stop this detrimental practice, and will instead give thousands of children a second chance and the opportunity to turn their lives around. “We cannot lose one more child to a system that contradicts what we know about adolescent brain development, increases recidivism, and makes our community less safe,” said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together in New York State. “Including ‘Raise the Age’ in the budget recognizes that enough is enough, it is time for New York State to live up to its progressive reputation and be smart on crime.”

For more information on NY’s raise the age efforts: http://raisetheageny.com/

Florida: Unprecedented Media Support for Bills Restricting the “Direct-File” system

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

In Florida, a wave of endorsements for reforming “direct-file” is rising. Local media in the sunshine state are increasingly vocalizing their support for SB 314 and HB 129, two bills that aim to reduce the scope and the impact of direct-filing on youth.

The current “direct-file” system allows prosecutors discretion to unilaterally decide that minors as young as 14 should be tried in adult court. As pointed out by the Miami Herald, this “nefarious practice in Florida continues to help ruin the lives of thousands of young offenders, and it must stop.” According to Human Rights Watch, Florida transfers more children into adult court than any other state. Yet, the Ocala Star Banner reminds us that only about 9 percent of the state’s juvenile offenders are described as “serious, violent, chronic offenders,” while the Pensacola News Journal highlights that “98% of the more than 10,000 children tried in Florida’s adult courts in the last 5 years were transferred there WITHOUT the benefit of a hearing before a judge.”

The bipartisan bill introduced in the Florida Senate (SB 314) would restrict the practice of direct-filing by requiring judicial sign-off on such juvenile-to-adult court transfers. The companion House bill (HB 129) has been amended to eliminate this central reform, but there are two months during the Florida legislative session (which begins this week) for it to be reconciled with the stronger Senate bill.

This legislation has received great support from Florida media, maybe following the lead of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, who proclaimed last October Youth Justice Awareness Month. The Times Union in Jacksonville and the Orlando Sentinel agree that direct-file “does not make sense,” for kids, taxpayers or public safety, while the Gainesville Sun notes that fixing the direct-file system is a crucial step in the effort to break the school-to-prison pipeline in Florida.

Here is a complete list of recent editorials and articles that were published in Florida-based media to support SB 314 and HB 129 and/or oppose the direct-file practice:

-          Palm Beach Post

-          Miami Herald

-          Ocala Star Banner

-          Times Union (Jacksonville)

-          Orlando Sentinel

-          Tampa Bay Times

-          Pensacola News Journal

-          The Gainesville Sun

-          Treasure Coast Palm

-          Tallahassee Democrat

-          Sun Sentinel

The bills have each already passed out of one committee and are awaiting further review. For more information on Florida’s efforts to end this practice, go to www.noplaceforachild.com.

ALEC Endorses Raise the Age

Tuesday, 12 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

Another important voice has recently called for states to raise the age of criminal responsibility to align with brain science and youth rehabilitation. In early December, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) passed a resolution that endorses raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include all 17 year old youth. The resolution now awaits final approval from the ALEC Board of Directors.  This is a great step towards ending the practice of youth automatically being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

ALEC, which bills itself as the US’s “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators”, and claims to comprise almost “one quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum”, is well known both for its staunchly conservative principles and for its power in state legislatures. Recognizing that “research has found that 17 year-olds are less likely to recidivate when placed in the juvenile system,” the ALEC resolution pushes for all states to pass legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, regardless of the nature of the offense. It suggests that the juvenile court step should never be skipped, even if it is eventually decided that a youth should be tried as an adult. It is also worth noticing that the resolution does not separate violent and non-violent young offenders, but applies to all 17 year-olds. This is significant, as some state legislation has sought to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for non-violent offenders or misdemeanants only, leaving behind a large group of young people just as open and capable of rehabilitation.

Considering ALEC’s impact among state lawmakers, this resolution could have great repercussions for tens of thousands of youth, for whom the practice of being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults has devastating consequences. Youth housed in adult jails are more likely to commit suicide, to be sexually and physically assaulted and to be placed in solitary confinement, which is considered torture in most places across the world.  Youth who are sentenced as adults have also been found to be more likely to recidivate, as the adult system is focused on punishment, and not rehabilitation. In addition to that, youth sentenced as adults will carry their criminal record their whole life, thus diminishing their chances to find jobs, access decent housing, obtain student loans and go to college, join the military, or vote.

There are only 9 states left in the United States who set the age of criminal responsibility below the age of 18, resisting to the wave of change that has been taking place for the past several years to end this practice that does much more harm than good.  In North Carolina and New York, all 16-year-old youth are automatically tried as adults. In Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, 17 year-old youth are all tried as adults. Hopefully the initiative taken by an organization as powerful as ALEC, with strong credibility among conservatives, will convince these states to side with the other 41 states that have already chosen to follow scientific evidence and data to change their legislation, and hence create a better future for youth as well as a safer society. 

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